Hill airmen return from six-month deployment, the first for the F-35As

May 5, 2018, 11:22 PM | Updated: 11:25 pm

LAYTON, Utah – Airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing came home Saturday after a six-month deployment to Kadena Air Base in Japan. It was the U.S. Air Force’s first long-term, overseas deployment of the F-35A fighter jet.

Saturday afternoon, a chartered jet landed at Hill Air Force Base, carrying many of the airmen who were on the deployment. Over the next few days, around 300 airmen from Hill will return home.

“As we stand back and let them reunite with their families, to see those hugs and to see those tears, that’s going to be really exciting,” said Colonel Lee Kloos, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing.

“It’s a sacrifice on both sides. It’s a sacrifice to deploy and it’s a sacrifice for the families back home. You’ll see the smiles and the hugs. It’s a huge deal,” said Colonel Gina Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing.

Becky Gale was among the crowd of family members waiting to welcome the airmen back. Her husband is Tech Sergeant Andrew Gale. She said they were able to stay in close communication while he was gone.

“We’re so lucky to have technology. We have internet. We get to talk to daddy every day and we do little videos back and forth,” she said.

As a steady stream of airmen walked down the stairs from the jet, children ran to greet them. As Gale made his way through the crowd to his family, he talked about the first thing he wanted to experience back home.

“All the hugs! All that I can get! All that they’ll give,” he said.

Pilots flew more than 1,000 sorties during the deployment of the new fighter jet. F-35A personnel at Hill have played an important role in how the jet will operate in the Air Force.

“It’s exciting because we get to break the ground. We get to break the mold. We get to write the books about it,” Kloos said. “That’s the exciting part about coming here and we get to figure out how to do it and we get to teach the following base as the next operational wing. We get to teach them how to do it and they’re going to learn from what we’ve done,”

There are 35 F-35As assigned to Hill. By the end of 2019, Hill will be home to 78 of them.

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Hill airmen return from six-month deployment, the first for the F-35As